Thursday, September 06, 2007

Competition for Increasingly Scarce Resources

The global warming induced effort to increase production of biofuels is helping to push grain prices to record highs. The International Monetary Fund recorded a 23% rise in world food prices during 2006 and the first half of 2007.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is predicting a record cereal production this year, up by 5% over last year, however the largest portion of this increase is due to increased maize production "reflecting increased plantings in response to strong demand for ethanol production."

In Nebraska alone, an extra million acres of maize have been planted this year. The state expects to produce 1 billion gallons of ethanol. Across the US, 20% of the whole maize crop went to ethanol last year, even though that contributed only 2% of the fuel for US automobile use.

This picture is mirrored around the world. Indian government expects to plant 35 million acres of biofuel crops, Brazil as much as 300 million acres. Southern Africa already has as much as 1 billion acres of land ready to be converted to crops such as Jatropha curcas (physic nut), a tough shrub that can be grown on poor land. Indonesia has said it intends to overtake Malaysia and increase its palm oil production from 16 million acres to 65 million acres by 2025.

The demand for agrofuels is hitting the poor and the environment the hardest. The UN World Food Programme, which feeds about 90m people mostly with US maize, estimates that 850 million people around the world are already undernourished, and that this will only increase with the present soaring food price. Indian food prices have risen 11% in a year, the price of the staple tortilla quadrupled in Mexico in February and crowds of 75,000 people came on to the streets in protest. South Africa has seen food-price rises of nearly 17%, and China was forced to halt all new planting of corn for ethanol after staple foods such as pork soared by 42% last year.

The world's big farmers are pulling out of producing food for people and animals, while global population continues to rise by some 80 million people a year. At the same time developing countries such as China and India are switching to meat-based diets that need more land and more grain, and climate change is starting to hit food producers hard. Deserts are advancing while food sources are being depleted.

Recent reports in the journals Science and Nature suggest that one-third of ocean fisheries are in collapse, two-thirds will be in collapse by 2025, and all major ocean fisheries may be virtually gone by 2048. "Global grain supplies will drop to their lowest levels on record this year. Outside of wartime, they have not been this low in a century, perhaps longer," according to the US Department of Agriculture.

As alway the poorest are the canaries in the coal mine-- they will feel the affects of the food shortage first; but the developed world will not be long behind them.


At 2:17 AM, Blogger Delta said...

Tim, as a fellow progressive would you mind giving your opinion on a strategy that I've been tossing around in my head for the progressive movement?

It's over at my blog if you have time.



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